Category Archives: Politics

Why Do Some Places Thrive and Others Collapse?

To read the full story and listen to the interview, click here.

In his opening presidential campaign speech, Donald Trump declared, “The American Dream is dead,” thus launching his campaign theme: Make America Great Again. This belief in the American Dream’s death was the “defining characteristic” of Trump’s enthusiastic Republican primary support, journalist and conservative commentator Timothy Carney soon realized, as he described in a recent interview with the American Communities Project.

In 2016, Carney set out to understand why the American Dream seemed dead to so many. He knew the widely discussed explanations: factory closures, more equal rights for women and minorities, old white men angry about losing their privilege.

Carney’s new book, full of personal stories and studies, is the product of his search for answers. Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse reveals how an invigorated community is the backbone of the American Dream. In his journey through America, Carney uncovered that “places collapse if they are not planted with institutions of civil society that connect people together and provide a sense of purpose. The places that thrive have those institutions, and in America, for the middle class, those institutions are mostly church,” as he put it in our interview.

Read on for more highlights of Carney’s research, his viewpoint shifts, and his ideas for rebuilding civil society. (Click on the anchor links below to jump to specific points of our interview.) Listen to the full, 34-minute interview.

A year after the March, women are sprinting forward

From The Christian Science Monitor

Ginny Dameron didn’t know what to expect from the Women’s March in Austin, Tex., last January. She usually avoids big crowds, and worried about the potential for confrontation. But seeing tens of thousands of people show up at the state capitol, she says, “wowed” her: “It was the sense that we were not alone.”

Odelia Younge also felt conflicted over whether to join the March in San Francisco — at first. Her top causes: reproductive and social justice, especially for the black community. “I decided to show up in a way I wanted to,” she says. She made her mark that day by shouting positive chants with her friends in the crowd — shifting the focus to what they want, not what they’re against.

For Emily Porter, the decision was easier. As a mom to two daughters, she says she felt compelled to be there. Marching on the Mall in Washington, D.C., awoke feelings of empowerment and validation. “It wasn’t just me feeling angry,” she says. “There was a real sense of female community.”

These women’s stories are emblematic of marchers nationwide who took to the streets on Jan. 21, 2017: They came out spontaneously, and for different reasons. And they were ultimately encouraged – and changed – by the experience.

Now, a year later, there’s something else they agree on: the pull toward political engagement has stayed with them. Whether it’s donating to campaigns, hosting forums, or engaging their neighbors, each of them has found a personal way to participate in politics.

“I’ve called my representatives more than in my entire life,” Ms. Porter says.

The same is true of women across the country, who since the marches have rushed to file candidacies at every level of office. That energy has also seeped through to other aspects of American life, amplifying female voices on issues where women have long stayed silent and moving feminism to the center of national discourse.

“The Women’s March gave me an opportunity to pull myself out of helplessness and join with others who are advocates for women,” says Miranda Orbach, who went to the march in Washington with her partner and their families. The experience, she says, “grounded and inspired me.”

A hastily organized outpouring

The Women’s March ranks comfortably among the largest one-day demonstrations in recorded American history, rivaling the Vietnam War Moratoriums in 1969, the first Earth Day in 1970, and demonstrations opposing the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Crowd scientists estimated that at least 470,000 people participated on or near the Washington Mall alone. Along with 673 sister marches held in all 50 states and 32 countries, the total number of protesters reached an estimated 3 to 4.5 million.

It was in many ways a hastily organized outpouring, an organic response to the 2016 election and what many saw as the unprecedented – and unacceptable – divisiveness of the newly elected president, Donald Trump.

“The women’s marches in 2017 reflected a mass sentiment among women across the board against Trump, but for very different reasons,” says Barbara Ransby, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Some, she notes, were dismayed that Hillary Clinton had lost, after coming so close to becoming America’s first female president. Others were aghast at Mr. Trump’s perceived racism and “the arrogance of wealth and privilege that he exudes.”

To read the full story, click here.

Election 101: Nine things to know about Rick Santorum and his White House bid

Christian Science Monitor– Election 2012

Click here for original publication.

Rick Santorum’s 16-year career in politics can be charted through his rigorous positions on hot-button issues: welfare, abortion, gay rights. His boldness has made Mr. Santorum, who announced his candidacy for president June 6, a politician that people either really like, or really don’t.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a Presidential Lecture Series sponsored by The Family Leader, at Pella Christian High School in Pella, Iowa on May 2. Republican candidates for president are discovering that the economy and government spending are trumping the usual issues of abortion and gay marriage in socially conservative Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo)

1. Why is Santorum running?

Santorum sees himself as the candidate who can best represent social conservatives, political analysts say.

However, Santorum does not see the 2012 campaign simply as a forum to discuss cultural values, observers and supporters say. He wants to tackle jihadism, which he sees as the root of terrorism. He also advocates limiting government, and restoring fiscal responsibility inWashington, says Sam Clovis, a professor atMorningside College and a talk-radio host inSioux CityIowa, who has interviewed Santorum three times.

The health-care plan President Obama signed into law in 2010 was “the final straw for [Santorum] in terms of what it means for freedom and the future of the country,” says Richard Girard, an entrepreneur in New Hampshire whom Santorum named to his PAC’s advisory committee in the state. Santorum has voiced concern that the new health-care system will lead to devaluing all human life. Santorum has a personal stake in the issue as the father of seven children, including a daughter who was diagnosed with a genetic disorder, Mr. Girard says.

Santorum’s longtime love of politics and tremendous self-confidence are key factors in a presidential bid, too, says Alan Novak, who served as chairman of the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania. Santorum’s political acumen has helped catapult him to two improbable victories in Congressional races. In 1990, he won a House seat in the Pittsburghsuburbs by ousting seven-term incumbent Rep. Doug Walgren. In 1994, he narrowly defeated another incumbent, Sen. Harris Wofford, during a year of a Republican wave.

Santorum has grown accustomed to being an underdog, as he is now. “Every time he’s underestimated, that’s when he surprises people,” says Mr. Novak.

Republican presidential hopeful and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum shakes hands with New Hampshire state Rep. Thomas Howard before touring Rugar Firearms in Newport, N.H. on May 31. (Jim Cole/AP Photo)

2. What are his strengths?

Novak notes how Santorum takes retail campaigning to a new level, thriving in the living-room setting with his soft tone and personal style. “He knows how to humanize issues. He’ll talk about what the budget deficit means for people coming out of college and getting homes.”

That ability to connect extends to being clear and concise on foreign affairs, says Professor Clovis, where Santorum’s eight years of experience on the Senate Armed Services Committee stand him in good stead with voters.

Santorum wins praise from supporters for being a straight-shooter and for bringing up uncomfortable subjects before they became acceptable to address.

“He has been a visionary,” says Girard, noting that Santorum has long advocated shoring up the nation’s financial health through entitlement reform. When Santorum spoke of reforming Social Security in 1994, his poll “numbers dropped like a rock,” says Novak.

Possible 2012 presidential hopeful and former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, talks with GOP activist Sue Carrol on May 12 in Salem, N.H. (Jim Cole/AP Photo)

3. What are his challenges?

Santorum’s national name recognition is poor, which can pose a huge hurdle in the race to raise cash.

Santorum is also seen as unable to win a presidential election because his views are not in the mainstream. Analysts note his 18-point loss in his reelection bid in 2006 inPennsylvania, a swing state.

Santorum may also face a problem for voting for policies that added to the federal deficit while serving in Congress, says G. Terry Madonna, professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. One such vote was for the Medicare prescription drug program.

In this May 2, 2011, photo, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum speaks during a Presidential Lecture Series sponsored by The Family Leader, at Pella Christian High School in Pella, Iowa on May 2. (Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo)

4. Who is Santorum’s natural base?

Social conservatives see in Santorum someone who articulates their beliefs and speaks their language. Some in Iowa have already taken to him, particularly in the northwestern part of the state that is highly Republican, says Clovis.

During his career in Congress, Santorum was popular with the National Federation of Independent Business, and received support from CEOs of family-owned businesses, including Jim Herr of Herr’s Potato Chips, says Novak.

Many retirees have contributed to Santorum’s PAC, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit that tracks federal campaign contributions.

Santorum may also draw support from people who are dealing with autism in their families. While he was in the Senate, he cosponsored the Combating Autism Act that became law. “He’s a hero to the autism community,” saysJohn Pitney, professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in ClaremontCalif.

Possible 2012 presidential hopeful and former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania speaks with political activists on May 12 in Salem, N.H. (Jim Cole/AP Photo)

5. What’s his war chest like?

His America’s Foundation PAC, which he can access for only certain expenses, has raised over $2 million in four of the past five election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Major donors include John Templeton Foundation employees; Tyco International CEO Edward BreenFranklin Schoeneman, a Schoeneman Beauty Supply executive; andRobert Toner, a Tower Cable Equipment executive.

6. What’s his political experience?

Rick Santorum represented the 18th District ofPennsylvania in the US House from 1991-1995, and then served in the US Senate from Pennsylvania from 1995-2007.

Presidential hopeful and former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania speaks during a We the People candidates forum on April 30. (Jim Cole/AP Photo)

7. What is his religious and family background?

A devout Roman Catholic who regularly attends Mass, Santorum is married to Karen, and they have seven children: Johnny, Daniel, Elizabeth, Peter, Patrick, Sarah Maria, and Isabella.

In his book “It Takes a Family,” he criticizes parts of American culture that he says do not preserve the family.

8. What is his media presence?

Santorum authored “It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good” and “Rick Santorum: A Senator Speaks Out on Life, Freedom, and Responsibility.” He also was a contributor to Fox News, wrote a column forThe Philadelphia Inquirer, and has guest hosted Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio program.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania speaks during a town hall meeting held at the Best Western Plus Dubuque Hotel in Dubuque, Iowa on April 26. (Dave Kettering/Telegraph Herald/AP Photo)

9. In his own words

‘The Judiciary cannot create life, and it did not create marriage, and it has no right to redefine either one.’

Election 101: Nine facts about Mitt Romney and his White House bid

Christian Science Monitor– Election 2012

Click here for original publication.

Election 101: Nine facts about Mitt Romney and his White House bid

Mitt Romney, who declared his candidacy June 2 in New Hampshire, has been groomed to run for president. He has the look and the political lineage. He’s been a governor, the quintessential training ground. And he’s essentially never stopped running since he conceded his first White House bid three years ago.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, accompanied by his wife Ann, arrives to announce his 2012 candidacy for president, on Thursday, June 2, in Stratham, NH.

1. Why is Romney running?

Romney is driven to find solutions to intractable challenges, some say. “He’s ambitious and believes in his ability to solve big problems,” says Doug Gross, state chairman of Romney’s 2008 campaign in Iowa.

The big problem Romney is talking about:America’s precarious economy. He wants to provide the foundation for securing good jobs so America can compete globally. This includes encouraging entrepreneurialism with “lower taxes on employment” and “immediate write-off for capital expenditures,” as he writes in his book, “No Apology: Believe in America.”

Then, there’s the timing factor. Because the pre-primary frontrunner generally turns out to be the Republican nominee, Romney’s 2008 campaign provided a solid launch for his 2012 bid, analysts say. John McCainRonald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush all ran once before they became the nominee

For Romney, the quest for the presidency seems to run in the family, says John Pitney, professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in ClaremontCalif. Romney’s father, George, former CEO of American Motor Corp., ran for the GOP nomination in 1968 and lost.

“It could be redeeming his father’s name. He worshipped his dad,” says Mr. Gross.

In this May 21photo, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands with people at Farm Boys restaurant during a visit in Chapin, S.C.

2. What are Romney’s strengths?

Romney’s knowledge of and experience with economic issues “convey an air of gravity and authority,” says Mr. Pitney. As founder of the private equity investment firm Bain Capital, he turned around troubled companies. Romney is also credited with rescuing the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games after a bribery scandal and with closing a $3 billion budget deficit in his first year as governor of Massachusetts in 2003.

In this economy, Romney has the edge, supporters say. “Economy and jobs are the top issues on the voters’ minds…. [Romney] knows more about finance and economics, about how jobs are created, and about what it takes to expand private-sector businesses than all of the 2012ers combined,” says a former economic policy adviser to the Romney ’08 campaign, who asked not to be named.

In this May 12, 2011 file photo, Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. on May 12.

3. What are his weaknesses?

“Romney has some issues with authenticity,” says Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster. “It’s very difficult to make a seamless transition of being a governor of a liberal state to being the nominee of a very conservative party.” Romney has changed his positions on abortion and stem-cell research.

Perhaps the most talked-about hurdle forRomney this time is health care. The law he signed as governor of Massachusetts served as the template for the federal law President Obama signed in 2010. Both laws have “an individual mandate that most Republicans find abhorrent,” says Mr. Ayres. For his part, Romney opposes the federal law and says the decision of whether to have an insurance mandate should fall to the states.

“It’s a very tall order to [make the distinction] in a way that would satisfy conservative Republicans,” Ayres says. Observers predict the issue will dog him throughout the race. “I can’t see how it won’t come up in every debate,” Pitney says.

In his ’08 presidential bid, Romney sought to allay voter concern about his Mormon faith by addressing it in a major speech. It may be less of an issue this time because he is known nationally, and it’s not a new story, say political observers. However, they note that many evangelical Christians won’t vote for a Mormon because of the differing beliefs.

Former Massachusetts Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pumps gas into a staff member’s vehicle during a stop at Hillsborough Gas and Repair in Manchester, N.H. on April April 29.

4. What is his natural base of support?

Romney performs particularly well in the West, say political observers. In 2008, he won contests in NevadaMontanaWyoming,Colorado, and Utah.
His “diverse regional base” also includes the Northeast and Midwest, says Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia,Charlottesville. In 2008, Romney won in Maine,Massachusetts, and Michigan, where his father was governor in the 1960s.

When it comes to voting groups, Romney can count on the backing of many Mormons, not an insignificant contingent in the GOP, says Mr. Sabato. Business leaders are a strong support as well, because of Romney’s personal and professional ties, says Pitney.


Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney speaks during a stop at Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q May 19 in Arlington, Texas. (Jim Mahoney/The Dallas Morning News/AP Photo)

5. How is his war chest?

On May 16, Romney raised more than $10 million for his campaign, a one-day demonstration that fundraising is one of his strongest political assets. Previously he focused on raising funds for Free and Strong America PAC, his federal leadership PAC, and affiliated state PACs. The PACs started 2011 with $1.4 million in the bank and raised nearly $1.9 million in the first quarter. Donors include Richard Marriott and Donna MarriottGoldman Sachsand Bain Capital employees, and Staples CEO Ronald Sargent.

Former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney listens to a question from a reporter after meeting with students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on May 16. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun/Reuters)

6. What is his political experience?

Romney served one term as governor ofMassachusetts from 2003 to 2007. In 1994 he ran for the US Senate in Massachusetts, but lost to incumbent Sen. Edward Kennedy

Mitt Romney, left, greets supporters during a phone bank fundraiser on May 16 in Las Vegas. The former Massachusetts Gov. and GOP presidential contender worked with volunteers to reach out to voters and donors through cell phones and computers in a bid to raise money. (Julie Jacobson/AP Photo)

7. What is his religious and family background?

Romney, a Mormon, met his wife, Ann Davies, when she was about 10. She was riding a horse in Bloomfield HillsMich., and he was with fellowCub Scouts taunting her. They met next at a high school party in 1965 when Romney was 17. He drove her home, and the two began dating. They married March 21, 1969. The Romneys have five sons, Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben, and Craig, five daughters-in-law, Mary, Jen, Laurie, Andelynne, and Jen, and 15 grandchildren.

In an April 29, 2011 file photo Presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a dinner sponsored by Americans for Prosperity in Manchester, N.H. on April 29. (Jime Cole/AP Photo)

8. Has he written any books?

In 2011, just in time for this campaign, Romney’s book “No Apology: Believe inAmerica” was released, a renamed and updated version (new introduction) of “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness,” which came out in 2010. In 2004, he coauthored “Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games.”

Former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, shakes hands with US Rep. Charlie Bass (R) of New Hampshire, as he arrives far a dinner sponsored by Americans for Prosperity on April 29. (Jime Cole/AP Photo)

9. In his own words

“Today, Washington is smothering the American spirit. Freedom, opportunity, innovation, pioneering – the very foundations of our national strengths – are under assault.”

Where Warren Can Make Inroads In Widely Watched Senate Race

Atlas Project

Click here for original publication.

The Massachusetts U.S. Senate race is among the most watched of the 2012 election cycle – and probably the most polled. The most recent Rasmussen poll released April 9 shows a one-point difference between Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren (46%) and her Republican opponent U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (45%).  Eight percent are undecided. Given the prominence and tightness of the race, The Atlas Project looks at the poll’s crosstabs and county census data to better pinpoint where Warren is doing well and where she has room to improve before Election Day.

For progressives, the good news is Warren’s outstanding performance among key Democratic constituencies: women, African Americans and youth voters. The gender gap is now a 20-plus-point chasm. Warren is beating Brown by 56% to 35% among women. (Unfortunately, Brown is doing same among men, attaining 56% support to Warren’s 36%.) African Americans prefer Warren 82% to 18%. Voters aged 18-39 support Warren 53% to 32%.

What’s better is that Warren has time to build on this support by connecting with more voters – and ultimately pull away from her rival.

For one, Warren can improve her standing among older voters by sharpening her message of preserving Social Security and Medicare. Among seniors, she draws 44% of the vote, while Brown garners 52%. Bay State counties with high percentages of voters ages 65 and over tend to be concentrated in two regions: Western Massachusetts and the Cape and Islands. In 2008, Western Massachusetts – comprised of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties – contained 12% of the vote share. Obama carried this area with 67% of the vote. In the 2010 special election Senate race, Democrat Martha Coakley received 53.9% of the region’s vote. Notably, Berkshire County has one of the highest percentages of seniors in the state at 18.6%. In Franklin, 15.2% of the county’s population consists of senior citizens. Among Hampden’s residents, 14.2% are seniors.

The Cape and Island region – consisting of Nantucket, Dukes, Barnstable and Plymouth counties – was 12.9% of the vote share in 2008. Obama won this region with 54.7% of the vote. In 2010, Coakley lost the Cape and Islands with 39% of the vote. Barnstable contains the highest percentage of seniors in a county at 25%. In Dukes County, senior citizens make up 16.3% of the population.

Warren can also make gains among middle-income voters, where the poll finds her support  surprisingly tepid. Warren draws just 35% from voters earning $40,000 to $60,000 a year. (Brown captures 51% support.)  Among voters who say their incomes are between $60,000 and $75,000 a year, Warren receives 40%. (Brown attains 54%.) The exception to the middle-income trend is Warren’s 52% support among voters in the $75,000 to $100,000 income bracket. (Brown is at 43%.)

It may be best for progressives to concentrate on the Massachusetts counties that have median household incomes well below the state’s median of $64,509. Here, Warren’s specific policy proposals that seek to lift people out of economic hardship may play especially well. On the very bottom of the state’s economic ladder are Hampden County at $47,724 and Berkshire County at $48,907. Franklin County’s median household income is not far ahead at $52,002. As mentioned, these three counties have some of the state’s highest percentages of senior citizens.

Overall, Warren does best among low-income voters and those most concerned about their pocketbooks. She reaches 74% support among voters whose incomes are between $20,000 and $40,000 a year. In the poll, people were also asked whether they considered their financial health to be excellent, good, fair or poor, and Warren captures 53% among voters who say their finances are poor. (Brown’s support stands at 40%.) She may have another opening to make gains among the voters who rate their finances as fair. In this category, she receives 49% support, while Brown takes 53%.

– See more at Atlas Project.

Rhode Island Women Workers and Voters

Atlas Project

Click here for original publication.

The plight of Rhode Island’s economy came to the national stage this week as Mitt Romney kicked his general election campaign into high gear in the Ocean State before the state’s April 24th primary. As debate on the campaign trail sparks over women in the workplace, Atlas takes a look at where women are voting and working in the Ocean State.                                  

In Rhode Island’s five counties, female voters outnumber male voters between six and nine percentage points.  Catalist data shows women hold the most sizable advantage (35,717 voters) in the state’s largest county, accounting for 54.4% of registered voters.



Female Voters

Male Voters

Bristol 19,643 53.6% 17,017 46.4%
Kent 63,799 54.2% 53,944 45.8%
Newport 30,730 53.9% 26,319 46.1%
Providence 215,088 54.5% 179,371 45.5%
Washington 49,976 53.2% 44,026 46.8%
Source: Catalist

Working women are ever so slightly outnumbered by working men in Rhode Island’s five counties. The largest discrepancy in employment rates between men and women is in southern Washington County (52% of men, 48% of women), which also maintains the lowest unemployment rate among the state’s counties.

The overall jobless rate in the Ocean State is 11.3%,the second-highest in the country behind Nevada. Notably, Rhode Island is one of only three states still reporting unemployment in double-digits. In 2011, the unemployment rate among Ocean State women was 10.1% (an increase of 5.3 percentage points since 2007), and 47.5% of women who were unemployed had been on the job search for 27 weeks or more, according to the  National Women’s Law Center .


Bristol 12,502 49.3% 12, 835 50.7%
Kent 42,322 49.1% 43, 838 50.9%
Newport 20,716 49.9% 20, 802 50.1%
Providence 147,091 49.6% 149,697 50.4%
Washington 31,746 48% 34, 375 52%
Rhode Island 254,377 49.3% 261,547 50.7%
Source: American Community Survey, 2010, 5 year estimates

Regardless of occupation, equal pay for women remains a persistent problem in Rhode Island as it does across the nation. The average woman working in Rhode Island is paid 80 cents to every dollar a man earns, which is three cents more than the disparity of 77 cents for women nationwide.  In Rhode Island, this pay differential is starker among minority women.  African American women are paid 62 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man earns, while Hispanic women are paid 44 cents to every dollar a man makes. Rhode Island’s population is 5.7% African American and 12.4% Hispanic.

The male-female economic divide is evident when examining yearly earnings, poverty, and unemployment rates in Rhode Island. Overall, women working full time earned $40,532 while men made $50,567 in 2011. In the state, 13.6% of women are in poverty compared with 11.6% of men.

Women are also disproportionally affected by Rhode Island’s cuts to health care and disabilities. In 2010, about 14% of Rhode Island women used Medicaid while 32% of children were recipients, the National Women’s Law Center found.

– See more at Atlas Project.

In Several States, Voters to Decide on Gay Marriage

Atlas Project

by Ari Pinkus and Adam Cohen

Click here for original publication.

To allow or not to allow gay marriage? That is the question swirling around state capitals.  In several states, voters are likely to decide the answer at the ballot box in November. While polling shows the American public has become more accepting of gay marriage, liberal groups still have their work cut out for them to shore up voter support in the states.

Overall, polls show Americans increasingly supporting gay marriage. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released in March shows 49 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed. This is a significant shift from 2004 when 62 percent were opposed to granting marriage rights to gays and lesbians and 30 percent backed same-sex marriage. In the 2004 November presidential election, voters in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon and Utah approved measures banning gay marriage.

Now, a new ballot-measure frenzy in some states – North Carolina, Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota – is causing consternation with particular Democratic leaning voter groups—factions conservative groups are hoping to harness this fall. A newly released memo details plans from the conservative National Organization for Marriage, the leading group against gay marriage as it has ramped up its campaign. “The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies,” according to part of the memo that was published in The Hill. “No politician wants to take up and push an issue that splits the base of the party,” the memo went on to say.

While generally states have not yet been besieged by ads, outside groups are planning multimillion-dollar campaigns going forward. Already, the liberal organization Freedom to Marry has launched a “Win More States” fund to raise $3 million for state campaigns.  The Human Rights Campaign is also expected to contribute to the measures supporting gay marriage. National Organization for Marriage as well as Catholic leaders in Maryland and Maine are likely to marshal resources against the measures.

First up is North Carolina where on May 8 voters will decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. A recent poll shows 54% of the state’s residents oppose the amendment while just 38% support it.  With the vote on the marriage amendment on the same day as the  Republican presidential primary it is likely that makeup of the electorate in the semi-closed primary will be skewed thanks to high turnout of an engaged GOP electorate. Nearly 80% of state Republicans describe themselves as somewhat or very conservative while 64% describe themselves as Evangelical and 68% are 46-years-old and older, according to a recent PPP Poll. All groups have been historically less likely to support gay marriage so the amendment has a good chance of passing.

Maryland sits on the opposite spectrum. Same-sex marriage recently became legal, but a referendum is expected on the November ballot to overturn it. If opponents of the law submit 55,736 valid signatures from Maryland voters by June 30, it will be placed on hold and the outcome will be determined by voters. Governor Martin O’Malley signed the bill March 1.

Here, Democrats must keep an eye on the sentiments of a different group of voters. In the state, 59% of African Americans oppose gay marriage, according to a poll by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies. African Americans are a key Democratic constituency—making up 25% of the state’s voters in 2008. They account for 29% of the state’s voting age population, according to the 2010 Census. In the Democratic stronghold of Baltimore City, 61.5% of the voting age population is African American. In Prince George’s County, African Americans make up 64.7% of the VAP. In 2008, President Obama garnered 87% of the vote in Baltimore City and 89% in Prince George’s County.

In Maine, the battle comes down to how much voters’ views have changed in three years, and demographics may have a role to play, too.  Proponents of gay-marriage have put a measure on the November ballot to legalize same-sex marriage.  In 2008, the 42% of Maine voters who self-identified as Protestant narrowly went for McCain 50-49%.  The legislature’s 2009 bill was overturned by 53 percent of the vote in a referendum in the fall.  The 2009 ballot measure brought in an influx of cash from both sides. Groups in support of same-sex marriage contributed nearly $6.5 million, while conservative groups raised $3.4 million. One top contributor, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland raised $568,025.  Notably, Catholics were 29% of the 2008 electorate in Maine, while Protestants comprised 42%, according to exit poll data.

In Washington state, gay marriage has become law, but opponents are likely to gather enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot. State voters are split on whether gay marriage should remain legal. A Public Policy Poll taken in February showed that 50% of voters would uphold the law legalizing gay marriage, while 46% would repeal it. Young voters support gay marriage 63% to 32%, while seniors oppose it 56% to 39%.

In Minnesota, where same-sex marriage is not legal, voters will determine whether to approve a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on the November ballot. Minnesota has a long history of opposing gay marriage. In fact, in 1971, the Minnesota Supreme Court was one of the first in the country to rule on the matter of marriage between same-sex partners. In Baker v. Nelson, the court ruled that state statutes did not allow gay marriage. State policies have been consistent against same-sex marriage ever since.  Meanwhile, public opinion in the state has evolved. In a Public Policy Poll from January, 48% supported the constitutional amendment while 44% of people opposed it. More men (56%) than women (41%) believed the state constitution should ban gay marriage.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie, who vetoed a bill legalizing gay marriage in February, proposed putting it on the November ballot. According to a Quinnipiac poll, 57% of the state’s voters support gay marriage while 37% oppose it. A whopping 67% say it should be put on the ballot for voters to decide. No decision has been made.

As public opinion has evolved, the Northeast has been the friendliest ground for the adoption of gay marriage laws. Countering the national trend at the time, in 2004 Massachusetts became the first state to issue marriage licenses for same sex couples. Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Iowa and the District of Columbia followed, enacting laws between 2008 and 2011. Some believe that Washington may be the next frontier for the electorate to uphold gay marriage. In 2009, the state’s electorate voted to give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. In 2012, the Democrat Chris Gregoire signed same sex marriage in to law and pending the 2012 initiative, Washington could be the next state to send same sex couples down the aisle.

North Carolina, Minnesota and Maine will have measures on the ballot in 2012. In Maryland and Washington, where gay marriage has recently become law, petitioners must submit the necessary signatures to put measures on the ballot to overturn the new laws. It is widely expected that voters will determine whether the laws remain in place.

– See more at Atlas Project.

White House Project examines, honors the role of innovative women in culture

Christian Science Monitor

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Jill Scott, Kiran Bedi, and other women who work to change cultural perceptions highlighted the White House Project event.


The culture is getting a much-needed make-over as storytelling pioneers begin to transform the prevailing image of women. Vivid narratives of steely, enterprising female leaders enable women and girls to envision these roles for themselves and help society accept more women at the top of their fields.

That’s the message 400 people – mostly women from foundations, corporations, and women’s leadership groups – heard at an awards dinner hosted by The White House Project on April 7. “You can’t be what you can’t see, and where the problem is is in the culture,” said Marie Wilson, the group’s founder and president, in an interview with the Monitor at the event. “The image of women as wife and mother hasn’t changed inAmerica.”

Her organization sought out a solution: highlight people who are upending this traditional image through their creative works whether it’s in books, television, cinema, or theater because popular culture has proven power. It is part of the nonprofit’s effort to put more women in leadership positions across America.
Interestingly, this year many of the subjects are international women making their way in new and different leadership roles. Typically, those revealing their stories are women, too.

Meryl Streep, a two-time Academy Award-winning actress, presented an award to Kiran Bedi, the first woman in the Indian police force, who starred in the documentary “Yes Madam, Sir.” Directed by Megan Doneman, the film was shot in India over six years as it chronicled Bedi’s trailblazing career.

Bedi first drew attention for fighting back hundreds of Sikh protesters wielding swords while she was a newbie in the Indian Police Service in the 1970s. She irked politicians to the point that she was shipped off to run Tihar Jail, the largest and most corrupt prison in Asia. Gangsters and guards proved to be no match for her humanitarian spirit as she was able to institute spiritual and educational programs that lifted up prisoners’ living conditions. The reforms earned her the Asia Nobel Prize.

Actress Jill Scott was honored for her portrayal of another first among females. Scott playsPrecious Ramotswe, the first woman private detective in Botswana, in “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” on HBO.

Journalist Sheryl Wu Dunn received an award as an author of the bestselling book “Half the Sky,” which she wrote with her husband Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist. Guided by a Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky,” the book describes that the brutalization of women is the signature story of our time, and investing in women is essential to lift countries out of poverty. The authors paint portraits of innovative women in the developing world who have overcome oppression to create new lives by starting schools, hospitals, and small businesses.

Prominent leaders of major American media were among the presenters, including Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times; Geraldine Laybourne, founder of Oxygen Media; and Susan Taylor, editor emerita of Essence Magazine.

The program included a preview of Abby Disney’s upcoming PBS series “Women, War & Peace,” emphasizing women’s role in the post-cold-war period as casualties of war and necessary partners for peace.

It is the seventh time The White House Project has celebrated Emerging Leaders in Culture. This event comes after the nonprofit’s report, “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership,” from November 2009, which showed that women account for only 18 percent of leadership positions across 10 sectors, including business, politics, and media. Events focused on culture are an opportunity to promote the message about the importance of women’s leadership to a wider audience, Wilson said.

The next step it seems would be to bring along more men.

Ari Pinkus is a graduate student in management at New York University.

The Audacity of Hope – from the Monitor archives

Christian Science Monitor

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Barack Obama gives readers a blueprint of his view that America requires “a different kind of politics.”

[The Monitor occasionally reprints book reviews of current interest. This review of “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama originally ran in the Monitor on Jan. 30., 2007.] It’s easy to see whyThe Audacity of Hope quickly shot up to the top of the bestseller list. In a refreshing voice, presidential hopeful Barack Obama gives readers a blueprint of his view that America requires “a different kind of politics.”

Coming off as an earnest – if somewhat wide-eyed – new senator, Obama gives sweeping assessments of the country’s intractable concerns: healthcare, education, and energy.

Obama advocates, for instance, for universal healthcare, but leaves the details to be ironed out. If he decides to push beyond an exploratory presidential bid, the generalities won’t be enough. But his writing is at least refreshingly free of the vitriol and nuanced policy positions that characterize the debates in Washington.

Obama takes on the most divisive topics in America, such as race and social issues, in a way that shows respect for alternate views. A constituent who has problems with Obama’s pro-choice position on abortion receives a personal letter from the Senate candidate. On race, he’s firmly in favor of affirmation action, but notes how “many Americans disagree … arguing that our institutions should never take race into account. Fair enough – I understand their arguments.”

Obama aims, too, for Americans to relate to the woes of politicians by placing them on a basic human level. Politicians are driven to win, not only by ambition, but also because they fear the humiliation of losing. “It’s impossible not to feel at some level as if you have been personally repudiated by the entire community.” Obama says he still “burns” over the “drubbing” he took in 2000, when he lost by 31 points to incumbent US Rep. Bobby Rush (D) of Illinois.

In several other places, Obama is surprisingly candid, opening up about vulnerabilities, such as his discomfort at spending time away from his family and the role that his Christian faith plays in his life. He describes the search for meaning that led him to be baptized as an adult.

But unresolved questions and sensitivity on faith matters dogged him during his Senate race. While debating opponent Alan Keyes, Obama was thrown by Keyes’s statement that he wasn’t a true Christian partly because of his support for abortion rights.

“I was frequently tongue-tied, irritable, and uncharacteristically tense” while debating Keyes, he writes. It leaves one wondering how he’d handle a more formidable opponent.

Yet the openness and eloquence with which Obama shares his personal story interwoven with his broad vision for America is compelling. For those who have been disillusioned by the divisiveness of politics, Obama inspires.

Ari Pinkus was a national news editor at the Monitor.

Obama’s hurdles in the general election

Patchwork Nation

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Tuesday was the last hurdle of what had become a 16-month obstacle course toward the Democratic presidential nomination. As Sen. Barack Obama claimed the title of nominee last night, most of the buzz was on the historical significance. It was a poignant moment in American politics, his anointing as the first African-American presidential nominee of a major political party. But it wasn’t the strongest finish. Senator Obama crossed the line with another split decision, winning Montana but losing South Dakota. He capped off the primary season by performing well in the college towns and minority communities that have been his strongholds. Despite inspiring millions of voters with his message of change, the presumptive nominee has work to do in the general-election campaign to win over his Democratic rival’s core constituencies: working-class voters and seniors. For her part, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman to be a serious major-party presidential contender, signaled that she isn’t leaving the stage quietly. First came the leak early yesterday that she would “be open to” the vice-presidential slot. Next, in her speech Tuesday night, she did not concede but rather asked supporters to go to her campaign website to share their thoughts about what her next step should be. Then, she added to her popular vote total with a solid victory in South Dakota, beating Obama 55 percent to 45 percent. “You had the last word in this primary season and it was worth the wait,” Senator Clinton told South Dakotans in her speech from New York. Clinton carried 52 of the state’s 66 counties, including the two largest, both “Emptying Nests,” which tend to have more older voters than the average county. Minnehana “where the water laughs” County – home to South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls – gave her 56 percent of the vote, and she won Pennington County with 52 percent. She also took 11 of the state’s 17 “Service Worker Centers,” counties where many people struggle to make ends meet and are feeling the effects of the economic downturn. Obama won in the “Minority Central” counties of Corson, Mellette, Ziebach, Shannon, and Buffalo, which have relatively high percentages of native Americans. He also carried the “Campus and Careers” counties of Clay and Brookings. Most of the state is considered “Tractor Country,” which tends not to get much attention from candidates because residents there make up a such a small portion of the electorate. In Montana, Obama had a better showing with 56 percent of the vote, while Clinton received 41 percent. He won seven of its 11 “Service Worker Centers” including the most populous county, Yellowstone, in the south-central part of the state. He also took three “Emptying Nests” counties and the state’s 17 “Evangelical Epicenters,” which have large numbers of evangelical Christians. Of course, Montana is unlikely to land in the Democratic column this fall – one reason Obama didn’t revel in his victory there on Tuesday. Obama opted to give his celebratory speech Tuesday in St. Paul, Minn., at the Xcel Energy Center, the same site where Sen. John McCain will accept the GOP nomination three months from now. On the night when Obama sealed the Democratic nomination, Senator McCain spoke in Kenner, La., just outside of New Orleans. He took on Obama and indicated the themes he’s likely to stress between now and the general election: his independence and integrity, which made him popular with independents when he ran in the 2000 Republican primary. Battlegrounds are likely to be counties classified as “Monied ’Burbs,” as well as those characterized as “Boom Towns,” where the population is rapidly diversifying. In both community types, John Kerry and George W. Bush nearly split the vote in 2004 – and they contain a large percentage of the electorate. As attention turns to the general-election campaign, a key question is whether Obama will be able to make more inroads in places that have largely been Clinton country. She has a sizable base of voters, many of whom live in Service Worker Centers, Emptying Nests, and Immigration Nation counties, where the rising bloc of Hispanic voters are concentrated. Blue-collar workers and seniors have a track record of coming out to the polls. Perhaps winning greater support from those constituencies will be a factor in Obama’s choice of a running mate. Another question is whether the college towns that have supported Obama will continue to be his in November. History suggests that a candidate cannot count on young people to turn out, a column in The Wall Street Journal recently noted, which Patchwork Nation’s blogger in Ann Arbor, Mich., seemed to validate. Obama’s mixed-race heritage may also affect how some people vote. Forty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, many Americans are proud that an African-American has a shot at the White House, but the primary season has also shown that in many places being African-American is not an asset. As for how the issue of patriotism might factor into the campaign, McCain’s status as a war hero will probably cement his victory in “Military Bastions,” and perhaps play well in places like small-town Pennsylvania, which Obama probably needs to win to become president. McCain seemed to wrap himself in the flag Tuesday night. Obama, meanwhile, has come under criticism for not wearing a flag pin.